Sunday Morning~ Common Ground

Sunday Morning~ Unity, Maine

Common Ground Fair

September 24, 2017

Hi Everyone,

In a continuation of life is good…I’m sitting in the health and healing tent watching the fairgrounds wake up. Other artisans and exhibitors are coming out of their tents sipping coffee or brushing their teeth, shadowy in the grey light. I love being here. From the moment I arrive on Thursday to set up, I have optimism about the world. This fair started forty years ago, an agricultural fair by the Maine Organic Farmers Association. It’s a 200 acre piece of land in Unity Maine and over the three days hosts about 70,000 people. It is so incredibly organized and efficient and I envision a whole world like this. Unrealistic, I know, but for three days I can pretend. It’s good for my soul.

Maine Midwives have a table here and I love being part of the family. Over the years participation has varied. Sometimes ten midwives are involved, speaking in the speakers tent and educating passers by. Sometime we raffle a quilt, and try to sell T-shirts, a perennial activity since we always order way more than we can sell. (The price has dropped this year if anyone is looking for a bargain.) In my defense, I argued against doing T-shirts again. I’ve sat behind a stack of them for too many yeas. But I digress… This year it is just two of us, my friend Kathy and me and we’re having a blast. Kathy packed a cooler full of good food and we take turns walking around, watching the demonstrations of woodcarving, pottery making, sheep herding, spinning, weaving, all things I love. There are lectures on organic grass care, permagardening, how to sharpen knives, homeopathy, thyroid disease, reflexology, and green funerals. Every hour there are at least thirty lectures to choose from in various areas. At five every afternoon there is a contra dance. I could spend hours in the chicken coop demonstration area alone. The creativity here is phenomenal.

We’ve made friends with our fellow exhibitors over the years and this morning we’re getting reflexology treatments. A few years ago they banned the sale of bottled water and installed water bottle refilling stations. Wildly successful. There are recycling stations and periodically throughout the day a guy on a bicycle empties the bins onto a trailer he transports by bike. I love it. I see people pushing each other in homemade wheelbarrows. There are huge test gardens with rows of picture perfect beets, onions the size of grapefruits, carrots that have obviously been photographed for seed catalogs. I thought those were all photo shopped. Apparently not.

It’s fun to have old friends and acquaintances walking through the tent and surprised to see us. We’re constantly jumping up for hugs and conversation. Others have come over to talk about their own Peace Corps experience or their birth, or their wish for a midwife in their area. Friday, Kathy gave a lecture about birth; yesterday, I spoke about what’s happening to women’s health services in rural America. Maine, being a victim of this phenomenon, there was a lot of interest.  Another small community hospital in rural Maine stopped providing maternity services this month. Another community of women who will have to travel two or more hours to get care, then the same in labor. Its ridiculous. I compared what’s happening here to what happens to women in Malawi. Everyone is horrified when I tell Malawian stories, but don’t realize the same thing happens here, only in different disguise.

Being here makes me feel balanced and happy. Seventy thousand people! I have no idea how the organizers figure out how many rolls of toilet paper they need in the portable toilets, but the rolls are always full and the toilets clean. I fantasize about what people from other countries would think of us if they only saw this snapshot of Americana. Smiling, polite, friendly, involved, recycling, composting. We’d look pretty good.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Flagstaff Lake

Sunday Morning~ Flagstaff Lake

September 17, 2017

Hi Everyone,

This feels like the old college days when we had to write our papers out longhand then sit and type them. Both took equal amounts of time. I remember what a breakthrough erasable typing paper was. It shaved hours off the all-nighters keeping the roommate awake with the clacking of the manual typewriter. There is no cell reception or internet here so I’m disconnected for five whole days. I’ll type and post this when I get back.

I’m sitting in the reading room of a hut on the Maine Huts and Trails route, situated on a huge lake in the Maine woods. It is heaven. Not being brave (or depressed) enough to venture out on a canoe trip on my own, I decided on Monday to spend five days hiking in the Maine woods, something that while it evoked a little anxiety was certainly doable solo. I set out on Thursday, determined to do something I’d never done before with my pocket of free time. I’d been wanting to hike or ski between the four huts of the relatively new Maine Huts and Trails route since I’d first heard of them about ten years ago. I hadn’t gotten to it, so this was the perfect opportunity: five free days, an established route, marked trails, and accommodation and meals at the end of the day. No need to carry food. It’s perfect.

The hut system here is brilliant, established as a non-profit to create some sustainable way of supporting the local communities as the logging industry becomes less vibrant. It is ecotourism and they have done a fantastic job. It was designed for cross country skiing, but open most of the year for backpacking and canoeing. I think they close in April for mud season. There are currently four huts with hiking and canoeing trails connecting them and there are plans to expand the system to include another four huts. When finished, the trail will extend 180 miles from Bethel, Maine to Moosehead Lake. I’ll be doing 45 miles which includes the eight I have to walk out to get a ride back to my car. The huts provide clean and comfortable bunks and  excellent breakfast and supper served family style. Then they lay out food for you to pack your own bag lunch. It’s fabulous. They are solar and wood heated, have composting toilets, warm showers, a comfortable reading room and library, pleasant and accommodating staff, and free coffee and tea always available. “Glamping” as one guest last night put it. Yesterday I hiked twelve miles through the woods and along the lake. The leaves are changing and the sun was shining and I am completely content.

At dinner last night, I learned that if you see a moose on the trail, you should just stand still. They’ll walk away. I brought this up at dinner because yesterday I saw lots of fresh tracks on the trail. I never saw another hiker and the trail was not well-worn so figured the moose probably had their run of the place. There are signs all over the highways warning about moose. I know it’s more dangerous to hit a moose with the car than to hit a tree with the car (for the people in the car anyway), but never really knew what to do if you stumble on one while on foot. When I saw these enormous fresh tracks in the mud I looked around, expecting Bullwinkle to be standing right next to me but I only saw toads and a few spruce grouse, which, did make me jump when they took off. I walked the next few miles a little spooked, wondering if doing this alone was such a good idea. I mean, why didn’t they put this in the instructions? Carry in, carry out, yes. No noise after 9:30 in the huts, yes. Dinner served at six, yes. Only brown paper towels in the baskets, yes. Trail shoes to be left outside, yes. But no, “If you see a moose on the trail, just be still, they’ll walk away.” No. Nothing like that. I thought about all this as I walked along, startling at everything that hopped or flew, thinking, well, it can’t be that big of a danger then because it’s not like out west where they are always telling you what to do if you run into a grizzly bear. I’m not going to be attacked by a moose…unless I get between her and her baby. Is it calving season? No, I don’t think so. Are baby moose called calves? I’m certainly not going to crash into a moose like I might in a car…though I might have a heart attack if I see one…and then what?  My thoughts turned to a woman (about my age?) who died recently when she got off the Appalachian Trail and got lost. I assured myself the people in the hut would come looking for me if I’m not there by five…though, come to think of it, I never really confirmed that that’s what they’d do….Anyway, I never saw a moose, but saw plenty more tracks. I don’t think I’d do this hike during hunting season, though. I got a little nostalgic for the scouts accompanying us in Malawi with a gun. They do make me feel safe. But, as one of the hut workers said, “the only way to conquer your fears is to face them”, so here I am.

Friday night I was the only guest at the Poplar Springs Hut but last night there were twenty-five of us here. Five families with two kids each, that makes twenty, then there was a young couple (camp directors having what seems to be a busman’s holiday), a mother/daughter pair, and me. It’s so fun to meet people doing this. By the time we part ways in the morning we’re all hugging goodbye though we’ve known each other for a total of three hours.

The trail is very muddy in spots and there is a lot of tall wet grass. I definitely brought the wrong footwear. I left my hiking boots in Malawi and thought I could do this in running shoes. I certainly can, but didn’t expect the trail to be so wet. Walking twelve miles in wet shoes gave me blisters. I did the last two miles in flip flops. I thought it would be much colder. I’m ready for fall temps and it’s like summer! I’m carrying way more than I need, but of course if I didn’t, there’d be snow. I didn’t need such a heavy sleeping bag either. I have been waking with hot flashes, drenched in sweat. I haven’t had any alcohol on this hike, though they do sell beer and wine at the huts, I haven’t had any. Now I find I have been blaming red wine for something that’s obviously not it’s fault. Poor, innocent red wine.

Ok, breakfast is served and I need to hit the trail. Another twelve miles today then eight tomorrow out to catch the ride from the guy who has made a business transporting hikers and skiers back to their car. I love how this supports the local economy. I’ll be back.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~East Boothbay

Sunday Morning~  East Boothbay

September 10, 2017

Hi Everyone,

Ok, this setting is hard to beat. I am sitting on the bank of the Damarascotta river in a sweet boathouse remade into a private space for Nell alone. I’m guessing they once stored boats in here, but now it is an open space with a desk, drafting table, loom, wood stove, double bed and dresser. There are big single paned windows on all sides. I see some life jackets hanging from a nail on the wooden walls, so it’s still used for some storage of boating activity, but mostly, it’s a woman’s dream space. It helps that the September sun is coming through the windows and makes this spot a warm place to write. I’m not sure I ever want to leave it. Nell is teaching a suturing workshop and offered it to me when I said I need a place to sit and write. Doesn’t get much better than this.

My timing has been laced with luck. This midwifery retreat weekend was situated directly on my path from Washington to Bar Harbor. I spent a few days this week in D.C. participating in the orientation for the new volunteers about to head off to five different countries. Their departure had been delayed, waiting for the funding to come through congress and a couple of months behind the schedule we had last year, they are eager to go. It was exciting to be part of it. I remember last year drinking up every word the returned volunteers shared in that anxious what-do-I-do? state of the newly initiated. It was fun to be the old pro and reassure the newcomers that, as hard as it can be sometime, we are living proof that it’s doable and I’m even going back for a second year! I felt so grateful and proud to be part of this organization. The orientation process which is in-depth, sensitive, and realistic, includes lectures on tropical medicine and education by experts in their fields.  That part alone is worth it. But to be in the midst of like-minded people with similar goals and the desire to give back, is a very good feeling. And it’s fun!

On Friday I presented, to a group at the Peace Corps headquarters, a comparison of the experiences of being a traditional Peace Corps volunteer, a team member of Doctor’s Without Borders, a woman’s advocate here in rural Maine, and the current role of GHSP volunteer. It was a lot to put into one hour, but it was heady to be the speaker for this audience. I believe in this organization so completely, believe it is the only foreign policy that actually works, and believe the next generation of health care providers is the only hope for improving women’s lives. I want to tell this story wherever I can.

Directly after my talk, I left to catch the metro to the airport and fly back to Portland Maine. My flight to D.C. on Tuesday had been cancelled which required taking a bus to Boston and a flight from there the next day. It took me a mere 24 hours to get there (I could have gotten to Malawi in that time) but the flight back was smooth and simple. From Portland I picked up my car and drove to Boothbay where the fall Maine midwifery retreat was being held at the summer place of one of the formidable women in our organization. Nell impresses all of us with her ability to understand legislation and regulation and decipher what it means for our practice. We have great discussions about how we’ll go about either enacting change or surviving in the current climate. For those of us who have been practicing midwifery for several decades, the constant fight to be allowed do what we are trained and legally allowed to do, gets exhausting. I, myself, run to the developing world to get perspective. But I love being in the midst of these women who don’t give up, who have developed creative and inspiring methods of enduring, and are fun and funny to boot. I soak all this in while being nurtured and fed from their own gardens as we sit on a deck overlooking the water, sleep under cozy comforters, then sip tea and gossip as the sun comes up. I’ll say it again, I love my life.

We, of course, spent time talking about the hurricane as we drank wine and ate lobster in the candlelight last night. We all knew someone in it’s wake. I can’t help thinking about the contrast between what seems to be an impending apocalypse and how happy I am about life. It doesn’t seem right. I admit to being a little blasé about the weather events. I get that there is loss of property and sometimes life, but it always gives me pause when I think of why this should be surprising? We humans try to bend the earth to our advantage and are shocked when it doesn’t cooperate. So if housing is situated on a flood plain, it floods. This is shocking? It seems callous and uncaring of me and I find that a little disturbing.  It’s a little like, “Oh, you burned your hand? I told you not to touch the hot stove.” People who voted in a manner that would eliminate services for those who did not build a house in a flood plain because they will never have a house, are now needing assistance? Hmm. I told you not to touch the stove.

Now I will try to post this on the newly renovated website (she even has wifi here!) then take my privileged legs on a walk in this beautiful setting before heading back to Bar Harbor. The next week is relatively unscheduled as my plan to canoe the Allagash River during this time is going to be postponed. I’m chicken to do it alone and couldn’t get anyone to go with me! This is a new feeling…no work and a free week. Hmm. It’ll be interesting to see how that gets filled.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Amelia and James's House

Sunday Morning~ Amelia and James’s House

September 3, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I often have pangs when I miss my mother terribly. Most of the time I feel her spirit with me but sometimes on a Tuesday evening I’ll have a deep sorrowful desire to talk with her. I used to call her every Tuesday around suppertime. She always answered on the first ring. Sometimes, when I have exciting news, my first impulse is to call her and then I remember I can’t. Yesterday was different though. I spent most of the day desperately wishing she could have known these two sweethearts, and desperately wishing I had bought her diamonds for taking care of my kids as often as she did. Holy shit.

While I was still in Malawi, Rachael had asked me if I could watch the kids for this four-day weekend. I responded to the request as if she’d offered a free trip to Italy. I told her I wanted to do something fun with them, something special they’d remember, of course, giving me full credit. They’d forget I wasn’t here for their formative year! I told her I might take them camping. I thought that might be fun. Maybe at the National Seashore on Cape Cod. Yes, I could picture that.  A nice campsite right on the beach, warm sand under our sleeping bags, a stress-free day of building sandcastles and collecting shells. Evening campfires where we’d toast marshmallows and then read stories in the tent before we all drifted off together for a restful night, never thinking an eighteen month old might get fussy or stumble headfirst into the fire. I now have one word for that fantasy. Delusional.

When George and I had the kids on Beach Island, the two of us worked well together and since they adore him and he is amazing with kids, the whole thing was pretty stress-free. There was no place for them to get lost, no cars to worry about, plenty of stones to throw in the water, and always one of us to watch them if we had to do something like pee. They were angels. There was one meltdown at dinner time when I made Amelia shut off Moana to come eat, but mostly bliss. Last weekend when we were doing the home-improvement project here, I bagged the camping idea and thought I’d just stay home with them and continue to work on the unfinished projects. I thought I’d finish the shingling and maybe start on the other wall. Ha ha ha. Very funny. I now have some new goals for the weekend. They include: keeping the kids alive until their parents get home, and brushing my teeth. I mean, by the time they went to bed last night I felt like I was getting back in the swing of this little-kid routine, but I honestly have no idea how I did this with five. Maybe I stopped caring after the third, I don’t know. I certainly don’t know how my mother did it when I dumped them all on her for romantic weekends away. Oh how I wish I could tell her how much I appreciate what she did for me. In my last year of graduate school I had to do an internship and left four kids under four years old, including six month old twins, with her for THREE MONTHS!! I was there at night but she was mostly solo. She saved my life with that heroic gift. Why didn’t I buy her a new house? Matt was in school so stayed in Cleveland with his dad, so it was ONLY four of them. The six year-old, who actually might have been a help, wasn’t there. God, no wonder her friends would come over at four o’clock for wine.

Ok, so it doesn’t help that I’m still licking my wounds from last weekend. When I got here Friday, Amelia said, “Meme, show my dad the boo boo on your butt.” I told her I didn’t want to do that and she asked, “Why? Why don’t you want to show him your butt?” And it’s always a little difficult when you are trying to find stuff in someone else’s kitchen. My mother used to hate my cast iron pans. She’d say, “Why do you have to have these monstrosities to cook on?” And then there’s the technology. I cannot turn on this television, which is fine, since I don’t want to watch it, but I did hear Amelia today with Rachael’s old cell phone asking Siri where her parents were. She started, “Siri, where’s my mom and dad?” and when Siri replied, “I’m sorry. I can’t understand you.” Amelia asked, “Siri, where are my parents?” I was in the kitchen trying to figure out the dishwasher and cracking up. Then a few hours later I got a text from Rachael asking if I was letting the kids use her cell phone as she was getting notices that purchases were made on Amazon that she hadn’t made. I’m putting that in the “they can deal with that when they get home” category.

Ok, and get this. Did the rest of the world realize that kids’ wagons now actually have cup holders? I am not making that up. They have cup holders and seatbelts! Wagons have seatbelts! I kid you not. We went to the playground which was akin to something at Disney world. I know I sound like the old fogey, “When I was a kid we walked thirteen miles to school”, but seriously, this playground is mind boggling. When I was growing up I think there was one swing set in our neighborhood and we used to try to pump so hard on the swings the frame would come up out of the ground. I thought about how dangerous that probably was. Could the whole thing have flipped over? I don’t remember an adult being anywhere within shouting distance. Yesterday every single kid at the playground had a parent holding a water bottle within four feet. So that must be why there are cup holders in wagons. Everyone is in danger of dehydration during their hour at the playground. People! This is New England! Not Death Valley! And why would you ever bring snacks to a playground? Then the kids will never want to leave. Though, on our second trip there I did bring James’s water bottle just to put it in the cup holder, because, really, it is kinda cool. And it was cute to see him like a  little emperor, buckled in and sipping on his water as I pulled them home.

I’m excited about how much I’ve gotten written and they aren’t up yet! I don’t want to push my luck here, but I feel like I’m getting my mojo back! I can sit without wincing and slept all night. It’s a rainy day and I’m not even scared!

The first stirrings are audible, so I’m putting this away. With gratitude for being able to do this and awareness of how…I’ll finish that thought later…

Love to all,